Sadly, it seems we have not done a very good job of rising toward that vision, at least not with regard to communication.
Despite the pressure to sanitize written and spoken words under the bogus label of “political correctness,” supposedly to avoid offending anyone, the national discourse has become more and more shrill and strident, not to mention lewd and crude and vulgar.
Negativity and cynicism are rampant, and there’s nothing kind or gentle about either.
The political arena is a cesspool. It’s something much more disgusting than mud that candidates sling at each other nowadays.
Technology is to blame for much of this, inasmuch as it is easier to mouth off and criticize from the safe vantage point of the Internet. Even if the critic does not further hide in cowardice behind a pseudonym or avatar, there is the knowledge that your target cannot merely reach out through cyberspace and punch you in the mouth in retribution, even if he knows who you are.
Social media content, unfortunately but predictably, is overwhelmingly negative. Experience tells us that humans have always been much more prone to complain and criticize than they have been to offer kind remarks, compliments or encouragement. Venues such as Facebook and Twitter have merely given rise to new forms of expression.
But it goes beyond techno-speak. We hear language in ballparks and stadiums, restaurants, department stores, airport lobbies and school hallways that in past years would have drawn disgusted reactions and, more often than not, demands from passersby that bad actors clean up their act.
All this stands in contrast to repeated examples of the generous spirit of Americans, who time after time readily give of themselves in support of various causes or efforts, from traveling great distances to help clean up and rebuild after disasters to putting spare change into jars, cans or boxes set up to collect donations.
Selflessness and service are about as kind and gentle as it gets.
Lately Bush, the aging 41st President, is getting widespread credit for his “kinder, gentler” prompting. In July of last year, he was praised by President Obama for spearheading the movement toward volunteerism and community service.
“On behalf of all of us, let me just say that we are surely a kinder and gentler nation because of you, and we can’t thank you enough,” Obama said to Bush.
The remarks came in a ceremony for the Points of Light Foundation, which takes its name from another Bush speech in which he compared the efforts of American volunteers to “a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.”
So are we, after all, “surely a kinder and gentler nation,” as President Obama proclaimed? Perhaps we are. Perhaps it’s all in our perception of our collective self.
A huge part of the forming of that perception is how we think, feel, talk and write.
Would that we could tone down the attitude in the way we communicate with each other.